Yankee pitcher Aroldis Chapman, Senator Marco Rubio React To Trump Administration Rescinding Deal Between MLB And Cuban Baseball

President Donald Trump's administration threw a major curveball Monday at a deal between Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Cuban Baseball Federation (CBF) that allowed Cuban players to play pro ball in America without having to defect from the communist country.

The landmark deal was struck during the Barack Obama presidency during its efforts to improve relations between the U.S. and Cuba, according to ESPN. The deal, which recognized the CBF as separate from the Cuban government, also intended to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba into the United States.

Under the deal, MLB teams paid a fee to the CBF for each player signed by each MLB team. However, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which is part of the Treasury Department, said the agreement violated U.S. trade law. The office sent a letter to MLB saying that the Cuban federation was, in fact, part of the Cuban government.

"Payments to the Cuban Baseball Federation are not authorized...because a payment to the Cuban Baseball Federation is a payment to the Cuban government," the letter stated.

MLB's front office responded with a letter claiming the current deal was the best way for young athletes to avoid human trafficking. "The objective is to end the dangerous trafficking of Cuban baseball players who desire to play professional baseball in the United States," the MLB said.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio said that MLB's payments to Cuba were more like a "ransom" and that the island nation wants "legalized trafficking of persons."

Rubio tweeted Monday, "Because #Cuba regime doesn't allow them to travel freely the only way Cuban baseball players can make it to @MLB is to escape. Regime cut a deal with baseball to allow players to leave, but only if MLB pays them a ransom. In essence they want legalized trafficking of persons."

Because #Cuba regime doesn’t allow them to travel freely the only way Cuban baseball players can make it to @MLB is to escape

Regime cut a deal with baseball to allow players to leave, but only if MLB pays them a ransom

In essence they want legalized trafficking of persons

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 8, 2019

John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, tweeted Sunday, "Cuba wants to use baseball players as economic pawns - selling their rights to Major League Baseball."

Cuba wants to use baseball players as economic pawns – selling their rights to Major League Baseball. America’s national pastime should not enable the Cuban regime‘s support for Maduro in Venezuela.

— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) April 7, 2019

Ben Rhodes, the official from Obama's National Security Council who led the U.S.-Cuba relations restoration, called the new approach by the White House "cruel" and said it "serves no purpose."

"It's a humanitarian issue for these Cuban players and their families," Rhodes said.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement last December reiterating that the league's path to baseball for Cuban athletes was a safe alternative.

"For years, Major League Baseball has been seeking to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba by criminal organizations by creating a safe and legal alternative for those players to sign with major league clubs," Manfred said. "We believe that this agreement accomplishes that objective and will allow the next generation of Cuban players to pursue their dream without enduring many of the hardships experienced by current and former Cuban players who have played Major League Baseball."

Cincinnati Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig, Chicago White Sox first baseman José Abreu and New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Céspedes are among the top Cuban players currently in the MLB. The stories of their risky journeys to the U.S. from Cuba were documented in the letter from MLB to the OFAC.

Some Cuban players, in an effort to get into professional baseball in America, have moved to a third country and established citizenship before trying out for MLB teams.

Then there are players like Aroldis Chapman, a closer for the New York Yankees. While playing on the Cuban national team in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 2009, he defected. One year earlier, he attempted to defect Cuba but failed, and he was eventually kept off the Cuban team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, according to ESPN.

Before Monday night's game in Houston, Chapman spoke through a translator about the Trump administration's move.

"I just feel bad for those young ballplayers who are probably not going to have the same chance to play here. It's definitely difficult for a lot of Cuban players who are not playing at this level here in the states. But the way we got here, it was tough, to say the least," Chapman said.

He went on: "The biggest impact is going to be the guys who are back in Cuba. For me and a lot of our fellow Cuban players who have already established ourselves here in this country, we're fortunate enough to have our families here. It really doesn't affect us here. We've been lucky."

The Trump administration's rescinding of the deal comes as the Cuban government continues backing the regime of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro, who maintains his hold on the South American country after claiming victory in the last election. The United States and dozens of other countries have recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president. Since then, the Maduro regime has cut off humanitarian aid, electricity and humanitarian supplies to most of its residents who haven't defected.

Although the U.S. has launched economic sanctions against Venezuela, the country is still getting resources from other countries, including Cuba.

Now that the Trump administration has repealed the MLB deal with Cuba, Cuban players hoping to land on an American team will need a license to exempt them from the prohibition, which means applying through the Treasury Department, according NBC News.